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By David Broadland, September 2016

Sewage "experts" make up new numbers to support old decision and hide real costs.

McLoughlin Point rendering(Sent as an open letter to CRD Directors)

Dear CRD Directors:

I write to you as a Victoria ratepayer, and as a journalist who has covered the sewage treatment issue since 2012. You are being asked to decide on September 14 what action to take on the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board’s recommendation. I urge caution. In short, the Project Board’s report appears to be founded on fundamentally untrustworthy information and the implications for CRD ratepayers are unsettling.

By David Broadland, September 2016

The city was once targeted by Sierra Legal Defence Fund for the level of "harmful" chemical contaminants in its wastewater. 12 years later, advanced source control has reduced those contaminants to a level lower than is allowed in Canada's drinking water.

Franc D'Ambrosio's vision for McLoughlin PointIN MID-AUGUST, Victoria architectural firm D’Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism released drawings of a design created by “an international team” for a wall around a sewage treatment plant on McLoughlin Point at the entrance to Victoria’s harbour. Writing in the past tense, as though the idea might have already been superceded by some better one, the firm stated:

By David Broadland, July 2016

Contamination of local politics by a false pretence and a toxic promise requires primary treatment at the ballot box.

Gregoire and CampbellEnvironment Minister Barry Penner ordered the CRD to shift to land-based sewage treatment in 2006. His claim that Victoria’s outfalls were contaminating the seabed has since been proven untrue.

As well, Washington State legislators have provided evidence that Penner’s action was prompted by an unpublicized agreement between then-Premier Gordon Campbell and then-Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. Was the legislated right of Victoria electors to control their own financial resources stripped from them under false pretences?

By David Broadland, May 2016

Puget Sound is a mess of sewage and toxic chemical discharges. Should Victoria taxpayers have to pay for Seattle’s sins?

Washington Representative Jeff MorrisWASHINGTON STATE'S OPPORTUNISTIC WAR OF WORDS against Victoria’s science-endorsed form of sewage treatment reopened on a new front in February. With the cost of placating Washington’s claims of environmental damage to international waters now hovering near $1 billion, Victoria could have lobbed some scientific evidence across the border. As usual, however, Victoria taxpayers were deserted by their own elected representatives, who backed down without uttering a contrary word.

By David Broadland, May 2016

On the sewage treatment issue, Mayor Helps and the CRD seem to have lost sight of whom they are serving.

Save Clover PointI WROTE HERE LAST EDITION about my two-year battle with the CRD to get two sentences of a 2009 staff report released to the public. I believed the sentences would show that CRD staff greatly underestimated, either intentionally or by honest mistake, a significant cost related to the development and construction of a secondary sewage treatment system for Victoria.

By David Broadland, March 1, 2016

Scientists recently confirmed an active seismic fault that could generate a large earthquake lies within 5 kilometres of downtown Victoria.

Taiwan 2016 earthquakeLAST JUNE THE Geological Survey of Canada quietly released a report on a previously unexplored deformation in the bedrock below the Strait of Juan de Fuca—the Devil’s Mountain Fault. When I first read the report a few weeks ago, Sir James Douglas’ well-mythologized first impression of this place leaped to mind. On his arrival in 1842 Douglas had pronounced it “a perfect Eden.” It now appears he was profoundly mistaken.

By David Broadland, March 1, 2016

The sewage and bridge projects are wasting millions in public money, including the cost of hiding those costs.

Victoria City HallDID TWO CRD EMPLOYEES—both former employees of the engineering consulting firm Stantec—greatly underestimate the financial implications of a contract between the CRD and Stantec? On the recommendation of the two, Stantec was hired as the CRD’s sewage treatment program consultant. The evidence suggests Stantec’s contract later ballooned in value. Had anything improper taken place? That’s the question Focus was trying to answer when it requested, through provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a staff report delivered to a 2009 in camera sewage committee meeting.

By David Broadland, February 2016

Fisheries Act requirements for sewage treatment in Victoria could be met for less than $200 million.

Option 10 @ Macaulay PointARE POLITICIANS BETTER AT solving problems or creating them? After following Victoria’s billion-dollar sewage treatment issue for several years, I’ve concluded they’re awfully good at creating them. The failure to find a reasonable solution to the treatment issue seems to stem from local politicians not being able to decide whether the problem they’re trying to solve is an environmental question or a question about how to meet funding deadlines.

By David Broadland, January 2016

A study by DFO scientists found that secondary sewage treatment will have a negligible effect on environmental conditions in our waters.

The CRD is poised to spend upwards of $1 billion on sewage treatment for Victoria in response to new Fisheries Act regulations aimed at protecting fish, yet a recent study led by DFO research scientist Sophie Johannessen says upgrading the level of treatment at two plants in Vancouver and two in Victoria will have a “negligible effect” on environmental conditions in the Strait of Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait.

Is a mistake of grand proportions about to be made?

By David Broadland, January 2016

The Commissioner’s report, by example, challenges other government officials to meet his high standard for transparency.

At the height of calls for Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to resign as co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board last month, the Times Colonist quoted SFU criminologist Robert Gordon: “If I was in their position I would be stepping down. I don’t know how they can carry on, honestly. There is something fundamentally rotten about the way in which the Victoria Police Board has been doing its business. I don’t know what that is but hopefully it will come out as a result of this blue ribbon investigation.”

Wait a minute. In one breath Gordon says “There is something fundamentally rotten” and in the next he says “I don’t know what that is...” Why, then, was he suggesting Helps and Desjardins should step down?

By David Broadland, December 2015

As the cost for a new bridge marches towards $150 million, explanations from City Hall seem designed to distract rather than inform.

In a recent Times Colonist op-ed about the new Johnson Street Bridge project, ironworkers union spokesperson Eric Bohne stated, “Deficient steel fabricated in China helped lead to a $63-million project estimate in 2009 ballooning to $100 million today and counting.”

Bohne’s message is compelling: Building the steel part of the new bridge in China has taken jobs away from Canadians. Defective steel has caused the cost to swell. He’s partly right. A union-friendly NDP-led council didn’t prevent a few bridge jobs from being shipped to China. On the second count, though—that deficient steel has caused project costs to balloon—Bohne is slicing pure baloney.

By David Broadland, November 2015

Was the surveillance software installed on the newly-elected mayor’s computer by Saanich staff a case of tit for tat?

Late last May I received an interesting phone call from Dr Gerald Graham. Graham had made a presentation to an August 14, 2013 CRD Board meeting at which an extraordinary incident had occurred minutes before he spoke. When Graham phoned, he told me he had filed an FOI for whatever investigation of the incident had been undertaken by the CRD. He told me there was no doubt at the CRD about who was responsible for the incident and that the FOI records he obtained showed this. When I asked if he would share those records he was non-committal. In the end he didn’t  share them. I’ll come back to Graham and draw a connection to the infamous installation of surveillance software on Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell’s computer, but first let me tell you about what happened at that 2013 CRD Board meeting.

By David Broadland, November 2015

Would the new bridge survive a collision with common sense?

A thicket of 12 rusting steel pipes sprouted in front of the new Johnson Street Bridge’s bascule pier in mid-October. Now a permanent feature of the project, fendering was somehow left out of architectural renderings of the controversial project. The steel pipes are part of a redesigned fendering system. Engineers’ concerns about the ability of the new bridge to withstand the impact of a marine collision have apparently led to much more extensive (and expensive) fendering than originally anticipated. In July the City of Victoria’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett told City councillors the new structure will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge and so the fendering needed to be beefed up.

By David Broadland, October 2015

There’s no scientific case for sewage treatment in Victoria, but the community faces a billion-dollar price tag anyway. Where do the candidates stand?

At a UVic election forum on the role the federal government should play in scientific research and support, NDP candidate for Victoria Murray Rankin told the mainly-student audience that “We’re not proud of what Stephen Harper has done to science. His war on science is everywhere to be seen and his victims are everywhere in our system.”

The Green Party’s Jo-Ann Roberts, running against Rankin, went further. “This is not just a war on science, it’s information and knowledge in this country that is under siege. Canadians are angry and embarrassed that ideology is replacing evidence when it comes to policy making.”

Appearing for the Liberals, Saanich Gulf Island candidate Tim Kane declared, “The war on science ends with a Liberal government.”

By David Broadland, September 2015

The Johnson Street Bridge project director says the new bridge will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge. Why?

City of Victoria taxpayers are now facing a price tag of $130 million for the new Johnson Street bridge project (see breakdown of costs below). That’s a tripling of the $35-40 million cost put on the project in 2009 when councillors first voted to build a new bridge instead of repairing the one city residents already owned. It’s more than double the $63 million that citizens were told a new bridge would cost when the City forced them, in the middle of winter, to counter-petition for a referendum on the project. It’s also $53 million above the price former City Manager Gail Stephens had in mind when she claimed the project was “on time and within budget” shortly before the 2011 civic election. And it’s almost $40 million above what “Fixed-Price” Fortin campaigned on just last November.

By David Broadland, July 6, 2015

Did a group of five Saanich councillors hold an illegal council meeting on December 4 last year?

That question has arisen as the result of documents obtained in an FOI request to the District of Saanich for communications between Councillor Judy Brownoff and other council members during the turbulent period at the District following November’s election. You may recall that Saanich councillors strenuously objected to the approach newly-elected Mayor Richard Atwell had taken when he proposed to replace CAO Paul Murray.

A December 3 email from Councillor Susan Brice to Brownoff and three other councillors (Leif Wergeland, Dean Murdock, Vicki Sanders) under the subject “Thursday meeting” stated, “Our appropriate [redacted] will be available for Thursday night so go ahead and let Donna know you are available to attend. Will keep you posted.”

By David Broadland and Daniel Palmer, July/August 2015

News of a secret investigation involving Saanich interim CAO Andy Laidlaw may throw the District into more turmoil.

In the Saanich spyware debate, either you believe that the senior manager who approved the installation of employee monitoring software on newly-elected Mayor Richard Atwell’s computer understood what she was approving, or you believe that a systemic disconnect from BC’s privacy law occurred and no one in particular was to blame.

That latter position was all that could be found in a report to Saanich Council on the issue delivered by the District’s interim CAO Andy Laidlaw and made public on June 24. In his introduction to the report Laidlaw noted, “I am acutely aware that my report will be subject to criticism by those who believe it does not confirm their perceptions.”

By David Broadland, June 2015

The spyware installed on Mayor-elect Richard Atwell’s computer was only one of three IT strategies that targeted him.

New evidence brought forward by current and former employees of the District of Saanich’s IT department may create additional pressure on BC’s Attorney General Suzanne Anton to investigate whether, on the direction of senior Saanich officials, the communications of Mayor Richard Atwell were wilfully intercepted. Section 184 of the Canadian Criminal Code provides for punishment of up to five years in prison for the “wilful” interception of private communications between parties unless at least one of the parties agrees to the interception. Atwell has said he was never informed by the District of the interception. Saanich has provided no proof he was.

Before getting to that new information, let me remind you of what we already know.

By David Broadland, June 2015

The CRD is fighting to prevent release of a record that could show how badly it estimated one of the costs of sewage treatment.

Since an inquiry conducted by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is a quasi-judicial process, I suppose I’m breaking some quasi-law by disclosing the contents of the CRD’s and Stantec’s submissions before an adjudication is made. Maybe I’m headed for quasi-jail, but the information that the CRD and Stantec are trying to keep out of the public eye is central to a rational, community-based decision on the sewage treatment question.

In 2009 the CRD contracted Stantec to provide engineering consulting services for the core area’s sewage treatment program.

By David Broadland, May 2015

Did Saanich staff conspire to spy on the newly-elected mayor?

Following release of BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report on the controversial installation of employee monitoring software on 13 District of Saanich computers—including incoming Mayor Richard Atwell’s—many Saanich citizens expressed frustration that Denham had left fundamental questions unanswered: Did Saanich managers conspire to spy on Atwell? If so, who ordered the spying? And who, they asked, will now determine what actually happened?

Saanich Council’s decision on April 13 to turn further investigation of the matter over to Interim CAO Andy Laidlaw did nothing to allay concern that these questions would be left unanswered. 

By David Broadland, April 2015

Victoria City Council has been fooled again on the Johnson Street Bridge project.

One of the great paradoxes of the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project is that as the costs go up and the benefits to taxpayers go down, the company managing the project for the City of Victoria makes more and more money. In a February 27 letter to the City, MMM Group asked for an additional $1.8 million. Although a precise account of MMM’s likely total take on the project is not yet available, the latest ask appears to push it close to $17 million. Yet in 2010 MMM estimated their services would cost $7.8 million. Since then, while MMM’s bill climbed, the project has undergone a continuous paring away of most of the original objectives of the project.

By David Broadland, March 2015

Engineers recommended a high level of seismic protection for the new bridge and then, as their cost estimates went south, they secretly cut that level of protection to the bone.

A document obtained through an FOI shows that the new Johnson Street Bridge could experience “possible permanent loss of service” following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that engineers have estimated has a “30-35 percent chance of occurring within the next 50 years.”

By David Broadland, March 2015

In trying to save the McLoughlin Point plan, CRD staff instead shoot it in the foot.

Eleven months after Environment Minister Mary Polak refused to support the CRD’s effort to force a central sewage treatment plant on Esquimalt, CRD and Seaterra Commission staff continue to spend tax dollars trying to make it happen anyway.

That was evident at a February 18 meeting of the CRD sewage committee. CRD staff delivered a report on the status of the $255 million Hartland resource recovery centre, which was well into the procurement stage when Seaterra was officially paused last July. 

By David Broadland, February 2015

In their coverage of two stories, was the local daily concocting a case for an overturn of November’s election in Saanich?

Bill Cleverley, municipal affairs reporter for the Times Colonist, described his “favourite news story of 2014” in a December 20 piece called A gotcha moment on April Fool’s Day: “Working with Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, we concocted a story about them approaching the Province to rename the University of Victoria to the University of Saanich Oak Bay—USOB—to better reflect where the campus is located.” 

By David Broadland, January 2015

Will Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen and Victoria’s Dwayne Kalynchuk lead the region’s big issue back to a gunfight at McLoughlin Point?

The effort to locate a central sewage treatment plant at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point has shifted into a new phase. After being temporarily shut down by Environment Minister Mary Polak’s refusal to force Esquimalt to host the facility, the McLoughlinuts now seem intent on a campaign to eliminate any other possibility.

By “McLoughlinut” I mean a person or organization that has repeatedly expressed the belief that any solution to Victoria’s treatment deficit must include a large secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. The McLoughlinut mantra is that anything else is “too expensive.”

By David Broadland, December 2014

Theories on why the region’s two most powerful mayors lost their jobs on November 15.

November’s campaigns in the two most populous municipalities on southern Vancouver Island brought 15,000 new voters to the polls and the derailment of two long political careers. One-term councillor Lisa Helps defeated incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin in Victoria and political newcomer Richard Atwell took out long-time Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. 

By David Broadland, November 2014

Key votes at City Hall raise questions about the judgment of some councillors seeking re-election.

The primary role of media in a democratic society is to provide citizens with information and analysis on important issues that allow those citizens to hold their government accountable for the decisions it makes and the actions it takes. This is particularly important in the period just before an election. If a politician has played a significant role in enabling an unfolding fiscal disaster, for instance, the period just before an election is the time to make that clear. For that politician, though, just before an election is a really inconvenient time for truth-telling. It’s an excellent time to say things like, “It’s with the lawyers, so I can’t talk about it.”

By David Broadland, November 2014

Mayoral candidate would provide stronger leadership and open up Saanich and the CRD to greater public involvement.

When Environment Minister Mary Polak decided last spring that she would not support the CRD’s plan to force Esquimalt to host a central sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, she created the conditions that pushed Richard Atwell into running for mayor of Saanich.

Polak’s decision means the CRD will need to develop a new plan; Atwell has been a leading critic of the CRD’s plan and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard has been a leading supporter of that plan. Atwell seems the perfect opponent to fight it out with Leonard on this issue: bright, articulate, and—someone close to his campaign told me—“very, very funny.” Not that there’s anything funny about the sewage issue: The Plan to Nowhere had cost regional taxpayers $85 million before it was suspended in September.

By David Broadland, October 2014

An FOI request for the record of how environmental assessments for gas plants were axed last spring catches government and industry in flagrante.

Perhaps you already know that fossil fuel corporations get the satisfaction they desire in BC when it comes to regulations affecting their industry. But have you ever wondered how, precisely, that business takes place? Is it done behind closed doors? Over the telephone? In a back alley behind the convention centre?

By David Broadland, October 2014

A de facto referendum on the issue is gaining momentum.

Where did the sewage treatment issue go? With the apparent collapse of the CRD’s $782-million centralized sewage treatment plan, the issue seems to have disappeared. Problem solved? Hardly.

Faced with being unable to use Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (sewage committee) instructed CRD staff last summer to prepare terms of reference for an “options study.” The proposed terms of reference for that study were delivered by CRD staff at a meeting of the CRD’s sewage committee on September 10.

Oddly, the staff report argued to keep a central treatment plant at McLoughlin as one of the options to be considered by the study. Tellingly, the report’s recommendations were developed without any non-CRD input, and that brought a rain of criticism down on the CRD at the September 10 meeting.

By David Broadland, October 2014

With everyone asking for more money, is the bridge project still “on budget”?

On September 11, Johnson Street Bridge Project Director Jonathan Huggett dropped a bomb on an already contentious City of Victoria council meeting. Huggett announced that on July 22, “serious problems” with the quality of work being done at the Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Company (ZTSS) in Jiangsu, China, had brought a halt to fabrication of the project’s lifting span.

By David Broadland, September 2014

Decisive moments in the bridge and sewage projects illustrate the need for more politicians willing to work in broad daylight.

The Victoria region’s two largest public infrastructure projects are in deep trouble. The proposed $800 million sewage treatment program had already cost $90 million by the end of June even though the project didn’t have a site on which a central treatment plant could be built. Of that $90 million, $45 million appears to have gone up in smoke, and three month’s after Environment Minister Mary Polak backed Esquimalt’s right to decline hosting a central treatment plant, there’s no political agreement on how to proceed. 

By David Broadland, July 28, 2014

At a July 24 City of Victoria Council meeting, the bridge project's new director said all that's needed to get the project back on track is better leadership, better communication, and more money. In that spirit, Focus invites Jonathan Huggett to provide answers to 15 questions about the bridge's design, project schedule, federal funding and cost.

Dear Mr Huggett,

By David Broadland, July 19, 2014

I'll rearrange the deck chairs while you get out your wallet.

A semi-scathing report by engineer Jonathan Huggett on the state of the $93-million-and-rising Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project was released by the City of Victoria on July 19. The report was prepared for the City following disclosure in April that the company contracted to build the bridge, PCL Constructors Westcoast, had filed a “Request for Change Order” for an additional $7.9 million and a 5.5 month extension of the completion date for the project. Huggett, an independent consultant considered to be an expert on municipal engineering projects, paints a troubled picture of the project.

By David Broadland, July/August 2014

Are City of Victoria taxpayers getting ripped off by seismic sleight-of-hand on the new Johnson Street Bridge project?

By July 7, the City of Victoria should have released details on the 6-month schedule delay and $7.9 million change order claimed in February by PCL, the company building the new Johnson Street Bridge. Focus filed an FOI for that change order in April. The City refused to release the record to us, invoking a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows them to withhold a record that they intend to release to the public within 60 working days. The City must now release the change order by July 7. So watch for it.

By David Broadland, July/August 2014

Let’s apply the climate-change lens to a comparative cost-benefit analysis of sewage treatment options.

Environment Minister Mary Polak’s refusal to invoke an untested provision of the Environmental Management Act may have saved Capital Region taxpayers the additional cost—on top of the $65 million the CRD has already spent—of a long and costly court battle with no certain outcome. In a May 27 letter Polak told the CRD, “Even if the Province were willing to intervene, the facts at this time do not provide a strong basis for intervention using the provisions of the Environmental Management Act.”

What seems clear now is that a completely new plan for sewage treatment in the core municipalities needs to be developed. Where will it come from?

By David Broadland, June 2014

Esquimalt shoots CRD in foot. Now what?

Following the CRD’s appeal to Environment Minister Mary Polak to intervene in the “impasse” between Esquimalt and the CRD on amending zoning to allow for a larger sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins wrote her own letter. Desjardins asked Polak to “decline the CRD’s request.” Her 12-page letter, supported by an 11-page legal submission, had the unmistakable heft of a well-considered battle plan.

The CRD’s appeal to Polak had argued that section 37 of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) provided the minister with authority to override Esquimalt’s refusal to amend its zoning of McLoughlin Point that allows for sewage treatment but limits site coverage and building height. It would appear the CRD made the mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

By David Broadland, May 2014

The risk of cost overruns on the new bridge was hidden. Is the same thing happening with sewage treatment plans?

April was a dangerous month for two local megaprojects and their political backers. City of Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin’s claim of a “fixed price” contract with the builder of the new Johnson Street Bridge turned out to be little more than a mayoral misunderstanding. That project’s acknowledged price is now almost certain to top $100 million and construction will likely run well into 2016.

In the same week, CRD politicians’ attempt to ram a regional sewage treatment plant down the throat of the smallest municipality involved in the scheme proved to be an expensive political miscalculation. Esquimalt Council voted unanimously to push the project out of the municipality, and provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak made it clear she wouldn’t interfere on behalf of the CRD.

By David Broadland, April 2014

Awarding of a CRD sewage treatment project contract to Stantec that turned out to be worth $43 million was overseen by two former Stantec employees.

Let’s parse Stantec’s expected $43 million share of the $783 million CRD sewage treatment program, one meeting at a time, and figure out how that happened. To start, we need to crank our minds back—way, way back—to 2006. That’s when it all began.

Just three working days after Environment Minister Barry Penner wrote the Capital Regional District and ordered it to develop a plan for sewage treatment, Dwayne Kalynchuk was promoting his former employer— Stantec—as the go-to company to meet the Minister’s challenge. Kalynchuk was then General Manager of the CRD’s Environmental Services Department.

By David Broadland, April 2014

More civil servants playing fast and loose with the public interest.

Although the Request for Proposals portion of building a new Johnson Street Bridge closed on November 1, 2012, what actually happened back then is still being unravelled. And that’s revealing secrets within secrets at Victoria City Hall.

Following the closing of the RFP, a press release from the City noted the process of evaluating the proposals by a four-person team could take “several weeks.” The council’s role in the process was outlined by the City’s Communications Director Katie Josephson: “Following the completion of the evaluation, staff will recommend to Council the selection of the preferred proponent and the rationale for the selection based on the set criteria laid out in the RFP.”

By David Broadland, March 2014

Emails between top-level BC civil servants show Premier Clark’s 100,000 LNG jobs were based on dubious assumptions thrown together at the last minute for her 2013 throne speech. Were those civil servants working for the public interest or Clark’s election campaign?

The BC Prosperity Fund got barely a mention in last month’s Speech from the Throne. But a year ago Premier Clark’s apparently far-sighted plan to develop a massive LNG industry that would create “100,000 jobs for BC families” and pump billions into Provincial coffers fuelled the launch of the Liberals’ election campaign. Their compelling clean-energy-and-jobs message brought them from 20 points behind to a surprising victory in last May’s election.

By David Broadland, March 2014

Documents recently obtained by FOI show the City of Victoria was warned by engineers of two of the three companies bidding on the Johnson Street Bridge project that the floating-ring design was too risky to build. The City went ahead anyway.

By David Broadland, December 2013

City officials ignored three red lights as they drove Sebastien Ricard’s dreamy bridge design into a solid concrete wall.

By David Broadland, November 2013

Rich Coleman says LNG development is about “generational opportunity”—it’s for his grandchildren. We follow the money.

Between 2005 and the 2013 election, EnCana Corporation made 52 contributions to the BC Liberal Party totalling $791,270. EnCana is an Alberta-based company that produces and markets oil and natural gas in several North American locales, including northeastern BC. The company is second only to mining giant Teck in the amount of money it gives to the Liberals. EnCana isn’t the only natural gas producer in BC providing financial assistance to the Liberals. Other donors include Spectra Energy, Talisman Energy, Apache Corporation, Crew Energy, Nexen, Devon Canada, Imperial Oil, Suncor Energy, ConocoPhillips, Arc Resources, and Penn West. 

By David Broadland, November 2013

The original architect of the new Johnson Street Bridge has left the project, and now engineers appear to be struggling with the mechanical challenges of his problematic design. 

Drawings of the new Johnson Street Bridge obtained by Focus through an FOI show the extent to which the structure has been changed from previous iterations. And even though construction has already begun, the drawings provided suggest project engineers still have not settled on a mechanism for supporting and moving the lifting span. Over the past four years engineers have floated eight or nine different ideas for making the ungainly bridge lift.

3-d schematic drawing of new design  

By David Broadland, October 2013

The CRD’s own records show it failed to consult taxpayers on the financial impacts of its sewage treatment plan. That's contrary to provincial law. Was the Ministry of Environment napping on the job when it approved the CRD's plan?

Focus recently filed an FOI for the CRD’s record of public consultation on its $783 million sewage treatment plan. We did this so we could compare what the CRD invited the public to provide input on against what seems to be the minimum legal requirement for consultation. The results suggest the CRD has, in significant ways, been avoiding its legal responsibility to consult the public on this massive expenditure of public money. Moreover, giving such scant attention to public consultation would only be possible if the Ministry of Environment—the regulator watching over the process—has been sleeping on the job or looking the other way.

By David Broadland, October 2013

Another key player leaves the project.

Last month’s story here on how the design of the new Johnson Street Bridge is being simplified in a process that’s taking place beyond the public lens prompted the City of Victoria to hit the local airwaves. Director of Engineering Dwayne Kalynchuk told CFAX listeners that councillors were aware of changes to the design of the bridge’s superstructure. In fact, drawings obtained from the City through an FOI indicate that in mid-March, two months after councllors agreed to a fixed-price contract with bridge builder PCL Constructors Westcoast Ltd, the superstructure’s configuration included major elements that mimicked the complexity of the original referendum-approved design. By the end of May, new drawings showed that complexity had been eliminated.

By David Broadland, September 2013

The CRD made a fundamental planning decision about future development in the region based on strictly theoretical considerations and without including any public input. The result may leave the City of Victoria with limited sewage treatment capacity to grow and puts the CRD plan for how to expand treatment in the future in question. 

While a pitched battle raged last fall between pro- and anti-sewage treatment advocates, a little-understood provision for allocating the cost of the $783-million project to the participating municipalities was quietly passed by the Capital Regional District, with no fanfare and no public input.

By David Broadland, September 2013

Was Victoria City Manager Gail Stephens' "resignation" actually something else?

When Victoria City Manager Gail Stephens resigned in late June, a couple of pieces of apparently conflicting information caught my attention.

First, in a news story on Stephen’s resignation, the Times Colonist revealed that Victoria’s council had voted 5 to 4 in support of Stephens after a group of 12 citizens requested an inquiry into her conduct.

Juxtaposed against that, in the reporting on the resignation were a number of councillors who publicly expressed great surprise that Stephens had resigned, as though a 5 to 4 vote was a resounding show of confidence.

By David Broadland, September 2013

Sebastien Ricard Fuming?

The only set of artist renderings ever done for Victoria’s $100 million new bridge were made back when the $63 million price tag included rail. Even as the bridge diminished in size, scope, and quality—and the cost of project management went through the roof— the project was always depicted by those same original renderings.

But new construction drawings obtained from the City by FOI show the bridge that’s actually going to be built will have only a passing resemblance to those time-worn renderings.

rendering

By David Broadland, July/August 2013

With questions about her own conduct still unanswered, is the City manager the best person to approve a Code of Conduct for her staff?

(NOTE: A few hours after this story had gone to press, Victoria City Manager Gail Stephens sent a letter of resignation to Victoria City councillors)

Such delicious irony: In late March a group of 12 Victoria citizens, including a former mayor, petitioned City councillors to hold an inquiry into the conduct of City Manager Gail Stephens around a report she gave shortly before the last civic election. Their request was openly supported by councillors Geoff Young and Lisa Helps, who called for Stephens to provide a written explanation of her conduct.

By David Broadland, June 2013

What do Christy Clark's LNG industry, the CRD’s sewage treatment plan and Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge project all have in common?

Key elements of the BC Liberals’ blitzkrieg-like bombing of the NDP in the recent election campaign began coming together last February. This included delivery of a report produced for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas by the accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP that seemed to provide respectable, independent verification that the province was on the verge of an explosion in jobs related to production and export of liquified natural gas. The report predicted the creation of 114,600 jobs in BC, instantly providing Christy Clark with her campaign mantra of “100,000 jobs for BC families.”

By Leslie Campbell and David Broadland, May 2013

Its $17-million purchase of property in a residential neighbourhood as a possible location for biodigesters has critics—and at least two NDP candidates in the BC election—calling for a rethink of the entire plan.

The day after we attended a Victoria West Community Association meeting, a massive explosion destroyed a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, where 15 people were killed. Most Victorians wouldn’t have made any connection between the explosion in Texas and a proposed sewage treatment facility in Victoria. But along with a hundred or so other citizens at that meeting—called to discuss a CRD proposal to locate several anaerobic biodigesters in a residential neighbourhood—we heard land economist Chris Corps say such biodigesters occasionally blow up. There’s nothing like the possibility, however faint, of an explosion in your neighbourhood to focus the mind.

By David Broadland, May 2013

Was Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin accurately briefed on the financial state of the City’s largest-ever infrastructure project before the last election? If he wasn't, as he claims, why isn't he concerned?

Shortly after Focus went to press last month with my “The smoking gun & accountability” story, a group of 12 Victoria citizens sent letters to Victoria City councillors and City Manager Gail Stephens.

The letter to Stephens included a copy of an August 12, 2011 memo produced by the City’s Assistant Acting Director of Finance Troy Restell in which he reported that the Johnson Street Bridge project had accumulated $5.2 million in unbudgeted costs.

By David Broadland, May 2013

Queen's medals awarded by mysterious means; you might as well take one too.

THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE from the City of Victoria’s Communications Director Katie Josephson noted that three City employees had been awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals. Josephson’s media advisory stated, “The distinction highlights the exemplary efforts of those who strive to make communities great places to live.” One of the Victoria staffers was apparently given the award for developing a City program as a part of his $106,000-a-year job. Josephson’s press release noted that Josephson herself had been awarded the medal.

By David Broadland, April 2013

Did Victoria City Manager Gail Stephens misrepresent the financial state of the Johnson Street Bridge project before the 2011 civic election?

By David Broadland, March 2013

Information obtained through three FOIs raises serious questions about how the City of Victoria's FOI office is being run. That office's attempt to block Focus' access to City of Victoria records last fall was misrepresented to City councillors, and the City prepared no evidence for the hearing called by BC's Information and Privacy Commissioner.

By David Broadland, February 2013

Have 200 tonnes of steel and 4600 cubic metres of concrete been concealed in the deal with PCL?

On December 31, a closed meeting of Victoria City councillors voted six to two to approve a contract between the City and PCL Constructors Westcoast to build a new Johnson Street Bridge. A week later, a press release issued by the City quoted Mayor Dean Fortin: “This is an important milestone in the life of this project. This fixed-price contract meets the design, project budget and timelines, and allows us to move forward with confidence on a project that will vastly improve cycling, walking and driving options to and from the downtown for generations.” Even councillor Geoff Young, previously a constant critic of the project, admitted on CBC Radio to voting for signing the contract, saying he had “grumpily” become a supporter of the project.

By David Broadland, January 2013

Saanich councillor Vic Derman worries the six-year effort to envision an environmentally and fiscally sound sewage treatment plan is, so far, a failure.

For a moment the board room on the sixth floor of the CRD’s Fisgard Street headquarters erupted in pandemonium. Shouted insults, derisive laughter and expressions of disbelief filled the room. As two people stalked out of the December 12 meeting in apparent disgust, chairperson Denise Blackwell pounded her gavel and called for order.

By David Broadland, January 2013

Will a couple of letters from high-powered lawyers awaken City of Victoria councillors to their duty to protect the public interest?

On December 19, 2011, senior engineers from MMM Group—the company providing the City of Victoria with project management on the Johnson Street Bridge project—met with City engineers in Victoria. A document obtained by Focus through an FOI shows that at that meeting MMM Group engineers expressed “concerns regarding the City’s approach to FOI requests.” City engineers present asked MMM to “send a letter to the City” addressing MMM’s concerns.

By David Broadland, December 2012

The proposed Johnson Street Bridge has undergone a quiet transformation in cost and quality since the referendum. So have the records of who knew.

City of Victoria engineering staff spent the first half of November considering the contents of bids submitted by three companies vying to build the new Johnson Street Bridge before deciding which bid to recommend to City council. Then, at an in-camera meeting on November 16, councillors gave them permission to negotiate a fixed-price contract with PCL Constructors West Coast Inc.

We only know that slim piece of information about what’s going on with the bridge project because councillors voted at the secret  meeting to “rise and report.”

By David Broadland, November 2012

Is freedom of information already roadkill on the City of Victoria’s shiny new misinformation highway?

On October 9—my birthday—the City of Victoria withdrew its Section 43 application to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC). Some gift. With only hours left on the clock for the City to produce whatever evidence it had to support its claim that Focus and JohnsonStreetBridge.org director Ross Crockford were working in concert to crash the Johnson Street Bridge project headlong into the City’s FOI office, it chickened out.

By David Broadland, November 2012

Dramatic last-minute changes to the bridge project’s Request For Proposals may overturn the design approved by referendum.

City Hall’s eerie, self-imposed four-month silence surrounding the Johnson Street Bridge project procurement process will likely be broken this month. Bids for a replacement bridge are expected to be delivered October 30 by the three companies negotiating with the City for a construction contract. That delivery date had been extended three times, leading to speculation that the competing companies were having trouble meeting the City’s expectations on design and cost. The process is intended to produce price-competitive bidding and so an information blackout has been in effect while negotiations continue.

By David Broadland, October 2012

We debunk the City's claims about why it is trying to censor Focus and we provide a more likely motivation for its unwarranted attack.

Leslie, David and Goliath. That’s what the City of Victoria’s application to “Section 43” our magazine feels like to us. A corporation 1000 times our size is trying to throttle us because we had the nerve to expose its mismanagement of a mega-project for which only a dubious rationale was ever produced. That project is now at the edge of failure, and Goliath is angry.

By David Broadland, September 2012

An engineering report obtained through an FOI estimates $34 million is needed to bring 16 City-owned buildings up to seismic code.

The contents of an engineering consultant’s seismic risk assessment of City-owned buildings obtained by Focus through provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act suggest the City of Victoria has been misrepresenting the financial liabilities it faces by at least $34 million. And the study’s findings lead inevitably to the question of whether senior City managers have been making rational decisions about how to manage the risk associated with potential loss of life during a seismic event.

By David Broadland, July/August 2012

Did the City get the “three green lights” necessary to proceed with building the Wilkinson Eyre design? It would appear not.

In a paper read to the Victoria Branch of the Engineering Institute of Canada on February 27, 1924, City Engineer F.M. Preston, who oversaw construction of the current Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria, left a little piece of advice for those who might follow. “The final cost of the work was 21.7 percent higher than the estimate,” Preston admitted to his fellow engineers, “and this has brought home to me that in future the right thing to do, when, as was the case of the Johnson Street Bridge, no money is available for preliminary plans and estimates, is to put a by-law before the people asking the authority to spend the necessary amount on preliminary work, and after these preliminary plans and estimates are prepared, to again submit to them a construction by-law.”

By David Broadland, May 2012

The City low-balled the price tag and is concealing that fact. With so much being hidden and costs likely to top $100 million, is it time for a change of course?

The whiff of scandal around the Johnson Street Bridge project grows stronger. One wonders what it will take for one of the die-hard City of Victoria councillors—the ones who have clung steadfastly to what appears to be a sinking ship—to jump before they’re sucked down with the wreckage.

By David Broadland, April 2012

Massive design changes to the new Johnson Street Bridge were withheld from City councillors prior to a critical vote.

AT A CRITICAL MOMENT in the special council meeting held March 15 to consider whether to keep digging the Johnson Street Bridge money hole, City of Victoria councillor Marianne Alto said, in effect, “Let’s keep digging.”

Along with other councillors, Alto had just watched a PowerPoint presentation by the City’s prime consultant, Joost Meyboom, the bridge’s architect, Sebastien Ricard, and the City’s Mike Lai.

Considered to be a swing vote on the question of whether to keep digging or get out and look around for what else might be possible, Alto declared she could now “understand” why the price had risen to $92 million. She told her fellow councillors she felt “grief” when she first heard the new price and earlier that day had decided “$77 million and not a penny more.”

By Sam Williams, March 2012

The City of Victoria's latest estimate for the new Johnson Street Bridge has risen by $16 million to $93 million. This shocking news comes just two weeks after demolition of the railway portion of the heritage bridge, making the less expensive option of rehabilitation impossible.

By David Broadland, March 2012

The long-term environmental consequences of a mistake made by Victoria City Hall are uncertain.

What’s the purpose of federal environmental regulations as they pertain to construction projects like the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline? Are they intended to protect the environment from negative impacts caused by construction? Or are they intended to protect construction projects from the negative impacts caused by public concern and scrutiny?

These questions floated to the top of my mind recently after I posed a series of questions to Transport Canada about the Telus duct relocation project in Victoria Harbour. It appeared that a key stipulation of a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) environmental assessment had been ignored or misunderstood by the City of Victoria, and the regulatory body that was supposed to be protecting the environment and enforcing the law was instead defending the City.

By David Broadland, February 2012

At Victoria City Hall, the truth doesn’t come cheap. Or fast.

BACK IN OCTOBER, Victoria City councillor Marianne Alto brought forward a couple of motions introducing the concepts of “Open Data” and “Open Government” to the battened-down-tight City of Victoria.

Coming as it did just before the civic election, Alto’s proposal was seen by some as an attempt to pull the rug out from under the new electoral organization Open Victoria.

I’m concerned about her proposal for other reasons. Firstly, it may create a public perception that the City has become more transparent without actually creating any greater access to the kind of information that defines transparency—the City’s internal communications that show how and why decisions are being made and who is making them. 

By David Broadland, January 2012

Two competing visions emerge on how to mitigate climate change at the regional level.

This community’s most notable response to the threat of climate change—BC Transit’s proposal to spend $1 billion on light rail transit (LRT) from Downtown to Langford—has been guided by the belief that the bulk of population growth in the CRD over the next several decades will inevitably occur in Langford and Colwood. The idea is that LRT will lower the carbon emissions associated with more people travelling between Langford-Colwood and the core municipalities (Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, View Royal).    

By David Broadland, December 2011

Is the political accounting for the bridge fiasco over? Or just starting?

The biggest loser in the City of Victoria’s civic election last month was Lynn “no-referendum” Hunter who saw her share of the vote drop 23 percent below her 2008 showing, pushing her into the ranks of the unemployed. Hunter, you may recall, opposed holding a referendum on whether to replace the Blue Bridge, calling referenda “an affront” to democracy. She was joined in unplanned retirement by the new bridge’s most fervent salesman on City council, John Luton. Philippe Lucas, elected as a Green but who then switched allegiance to the NDP and seemed to have forgotten his 3 Rs in the process—particularly “reuse”—was also dumped by voters.

By David Broadland, November 2011

City of Victoria managers create misinformation that makes them look good and lulls the rest of us into a delusional stupor.

Let’s start un-juking the stats in Saanich. Compared to Victoria, Saanich is five times larger in physical size and has 30,000 more residents. The average income of a Saanich resident is almost 50 percent higher than the average Victorian. So you would think that a bigger, richer, more populous municipality would also have a proportionately larger, more expensive civic government. But Saanich and Victoria’s budgets are virtually identical.

By David Broadland, October 2011

Was the early closing of the Johnson Street Railway Bridge staged to divert public and media attention away from a serious threat to the new bridge project?

Back on April 7 the City of Victoria suddenly announced they were closing the Johnson Street Railway Bridge after Stantec Consulting identified problems with the bridge. The City said repairs to keep it open for rail, pedestrians and cyclists would cost $120,000. Since this amount “greatly exceeded the annual maintenance budget for the bridge,” and because they were going to demolish the rail bridge in “early 2012” anyway, City council accepted their staff’s recommendation not to repair the bridge. Its closure shut off the main access route for cyclists and pedestrians into and out of the city via the Galloping Goose Trail and put the E&N Dayliner out of business.

By David Broadland, September 2011

A report from the scene of the crime indicates City staff loaded the gun, but the mayor pulled the trigger.

Documents obtained through provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act reveal the new Johnson Street Bridge project has barely got to the “preliminary design stage,” and has already undergone big downgrades in service life and sheer physical size. Even at this early stage there are clear indications the cost of the project was underestimated and promises are being broken in order to contain costs, without the knowledge or assent of elected council members.

Let’s start with broken promises.

Included in documents released by the City is a “Professional Services Agreement” (PSA) signed April 19 by Mayor Dean Fortin and Joost Meyboom, an engineer with MMM Group, the company guiding the City in their attempt to build a new bridge.

By David Broadland, June 2011

A seismic risk assessment will likely force the City to consider replacing the 133-year-old structure. Will City council and staff use the same strategy—spending millions to overwhelm all opposition—they used with the bridge?

By David Broadland, May 2011

Why did the City of Victoria suddenly close the Johnson Street Railway Bridge?

On the afternoon of March 29, engineer Andrew Rushforth wrote a one-sentence letter to the City of Victoria. His message, stamped in red ink with the seal of a Professional Engineer, stated “Following our inspection of the Johnson Street Railway Bridge (bascule span) this morning, it is my considered opinion that it should be closed until emergency repairs are completed.” In a hand-written notation, Rushforth added, “To Railway traffic.”

By David Broadland, March 2011

The City of Victoria wants its citizens to believe all is well at City Hall. Just don’t scratch below the yellow paint.

The awesome power of public relations as a tool for making civic governance work better for the governors than the governed was on full display last month in this city. On February 17 the City of Victoria’s Director of Communications Katie Josephson sent out a press release announcing reassuring news for city residents. Under the headline “City Wins Canadian Award for Financial Reporting for Sixth Year in a Row,” Josephson stated, “The Canadian Award for Financial Reporting has been awarded to the City of Victoria for its 2009 Annual Report by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA). This is the sixth consecutive year the City has won the prestigious award.”

by David Broadland, January 2011

What are they hiding at Douglas and Pandora?

In late November, WikiLeaks, the organization founded by Julian Assange, began distributing transcripts of secret American government cables, and that unleashed a torrent of discussion around the globe about the efficacy of government secrecy. But almost immediately, the high-minded considerations about how much government secrecy is tolerable in a democratic society were pushed aside by the question of whether Julian Assange’s condom had merely leaked or was purposely torn. The trajectory of human progress is a rather like the flight of a butterfly, isn’t it? We’ll get there, but not in a straight line.

by David Broadland, November 19, 2010

The numbers the City presented for the cost of a new bridge and the cost to rehabilitate the current bridge were based on estimates done by Advicas Group. Those estimates were peer-reviewed by Stantec's Andrew Rushforth, but analysis suggests the numbers have been tweaked so the City’s high-end rehabilitation appears to be more expensive. We un-tweak the numbers.

City Hall says it will cost $77 million for a new bridge without rail on it and $80 million for what is now known as the “gold-plated” rehab.

I’ve been asking myself 3 question about these two numbers:

• Where did they come from?

Sam Williams, November 19, 2010

The City's Engineering Department suppressed information provided to it by Delcan about the lifecycle costs for the Johnson Street Bridge.

In preparing data for a presentation to Victoria City councillors in April 2009, Delcan Corp provided the City of Victoria's Mike Lai with 4 lifecycle cost analyses. The analyses showed the least expensive path forward would be to seismically retrofit the bridge, repair it and then do continuous maintenance and repairs as needed into the future.

By David Broadland, December 2010

Voters gave the City authority to borrow $49.2 million to replace the Johnson Street Bridge. But did they have all the information they needed to make this decision?

We’ll never know whether the Times Colonist’s last-minute, anonymous editorial endorsing replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge had any impact on the outcome of the November 20 referendum in which electors gave the City authority to borrow $49.2 million to replace the bridge. But it’s a fine example of the misinformation the paper provided citizens on the issue over the past year and a half.

by David Broadland, September 2010

Round 2 in the battle of Johnson Street Bridge finally gets underway

"My recommendations and conclusions will be along these lines: Retrofit rather than replace...retrofit to lifeline standards can be achieved by installing a new, relatively flexible foundation to relieve the existing timber pile arrangement. Together with electrical/mechanical upgrades, painting and other rehab items this retrofit option is currently estimated to cost in the order of $8.6M." —Dr Joost Meyboom, November 21, 2008

by David Broadland, August 2010

The number of six-figure salaries has increased dramatically at City Hall. But are taxpayers getting good value for their money?

That Victoria City Hall exists in a kind of economic bubble floating well above the reality of the ordinary people that pay City Hall’s bills was confirmed in July with the publication of the City’s 2009 Public Bodies Report. Municipalities are required by law to list all positions (excepting police) for which remuneration is greater than $75,000. The City’s 2009 report showed the number of City Hall staffers making more than $100,000 a year jumped from 15 in 2008 to 50 in 2009. According to Statistics Canada (2006) only 4 percent of Canadians have annual income greater than $100,000.

by David Broadland, July 2010

Has the seismic risk to the Johnson Street Bridge been over-stated? And is the City’s response to that risk an over-reaction?

American bridge engineer Frank Nelson has been asked to travel to Kansas in late July to train a group of that state’s Department of Transportation engineers how to correctly compare rehabilitation and replacement options when they are considering the fate of a bridge. This particular group of engineers were judged to have not given a “creditable evaluation” of rehabilitation while pushing ahead to replace the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge across the Missouri River. As part of the required remediation for removing the bridge, they have to take Frank’s course. The engineers currently considering the fate of the Johnson Street Bridge might want to take notice.